Discrepancies in the treatment of the rich and poor have long been a hot topic in the United States, and more recently, this issue has manifested itself in the realm of healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a “comprehensive health care reform law enacted in March 2010” during Barack Obama’s Presidency and is supported emphatically by the Democratic Party (“Affordable Care Act (ACA) – HealthCare.gov Glossary”). The ACA provides many millions of previously uninsured Americans access to affordable healthcare. As Nancy Pelosi, former US Speaker of the House, said upon passage of the law, “Today we have the opportunity to complete the great unfinished business of our society and pass health insurance reform for all Americans as a right, not a privilege” (Murray and Montgomery “House Passes Health-Care Reform Bill without Republican Votes”). For almost a decade, thereafter, the Republican Party has adamantly opposed this legislation, derisively referring to it as “Obamacare” or “socialized medicine.” Some of the most vociferous opposition has come from the populist Tea Party that “loves Medicare but hates ‘Obamacare’” (Gerard “Why the Tea Party Loves Medicare but Hates Obamacare”). Ironically, many Obamacare detractors oppose the health care reform that is in their best interests. As of July 2017, a report in Newsweek noted that there have been “at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act” (Riotta “GOP Aims to Kill Obamacare Yet Again after Failing 70 Times”). Nevertheless, the ACA remains the law of the land. Even in the era of the Trump Presidency and the Republican-controlled House and Senate, majority of Americans have turned against efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare because doing so would provide significant tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans while removing healthcare coverage for millions of middle and lower-class citizens along with downstream detrimental effects (Alic “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). Monte Wolverton’s political cartoon, “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich,” takes a heavily sarcastic tone in addressing these disparities by utilizing an affluent appearing cartoon figure’s commentary to address the blatant inequities inherent in GOP efforts to do away with the ACA.
Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it was estimated that over 53 million Americans were living without healthcare coverage and millions more were underinsured due to the increasing price tag (Alic “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”). In order to combat these alarming truths, the Affordable Care Act was passed on March 23, 2010, and under the law, more than 20 million previously uninsured Americans were granted healthcare coverage. ACA coverage is funded, in large part, through higher taxes on individuals making over $200,000 and couples making $250,00 in annual income such as the 3.8% investment income tax or .9% payroll tax (Horsley “GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years”).
By contrast, Republicans, through their various repeal-and-replace bills, hoped to redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars by providing large tax cuts to the wealthy. The aforementioned taxes on the upper class that were required for establishment of the ACA would be targeted for repeal. It has been estimated that this would result in cutting around $247 billion collectively, and, by 2020, it would save those making over $1 million in income about $15.9 billion (Drucker. “Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare Repeal Plan”).
In addition to the proposed beneficial tax cuts for those in the upper annual grossing bracket, only approximately 20% of the American population, the repeal-and-replace effort was estimated to cause 23 million Americans to lose their healthcare coverage by 2026 because of impending increases in the cost of insurance rates. For example, people with incomes up to the 150% poverty level who currently pay a $255 a-per month deductible under the Affordable Care Act would face a new deductible price tag of more than $6,000 (Michael “How Many People Will Die from the Republicans’ Obamacare Repeal Bills? Tens of Thousands per Year”). This grossly immense disparity in healthcare payments for the majority of the population would directly result from removing taxes imposed on the affluent. This raises questions about the true aims of the GOP’s various plans to repeal-and-replace Obamacare.
Whereas the Democratic Party tends to “rely more heavily on government intervention to influence the economy’s direction and keep the profit motive of businesses more at bay,” the Republican Party traditionally organizes its economic agenda as a “business friendly” approach that limits government economic regulations and avoids “restrictions that might seek to dimunize the pursuit of profits in favor of… healthcare benefits” (Fuhrmann “Republican and Democratic Approaches to Regulating the Economy”). Thus, Republicans approached their repeal-and-replace proposals from the perspective that the tax cuts not only would directly help the rich but also find their way to the lower classes through what is known as the “Trickle-Down Effect.” “Trickle-Down Economics” is an economic theory that promises economic growth through the practice of providing large benefits and tax breaks to the wealthy in the hopes that the wealth will be distributed down the social class ladder through the creation of new jobs and economic stimulus. When the theory was applied in the early 1960’s and 1980’s, however, those most negatively affected were middle to lower-class workers and small business owners due to their inability to compete with ever-growing corporations that actually hindered money, jobs, and other purported benefits from trickling down. In fact, “Trickle-Down economics” policies only facilitated the increasing gap between the poor and the rich (Wilson “Trickle-Down Theory”).
Wolverton’s political cartoon, “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich,” takes the stance of opposing the desired Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s proposed replacement schemes. The artist’s choice of character, a well-dressed, distinctly wealthy man, represents the wealthiest American’s as a whole. With his champagne and pet, the affluent character has isolated himself on a desert island, a reflection of the separation of the upper and lower-classes in the Unites States. Drinking champagne, an extravagance, he toasts the Republican’s proposed plan to replace the ACA. Through the character’s dialogue, especially the reference to wealth “trickling-down” so that “maybe” other social classes can afford health insurance, Wolverton asserts his opinion that the GOP-led-repeal-and-replace propositions are unfair.
The cartoonist underscores this fundamental unfairness by bolding the “good news” that by “repealing Obamacare” the “tax break” for the “wealthiest Americans” will “trickle down” to the “rest” us so that “then” perhaps we can afford “insurance.” The asterisk mark in Wolverton’s illustration points readers to the evidence: a 2017 report authored by Brandon Debot and published by the Center on Budge and Policy Priorities. In his analysis of the unbalanced tax breaks proposed by the GOP through repeal-and-replace of Obamacare, Debot and the CBPP estimate that the “400 highest-income taxpayers — whose incomes average more than $300 million a year — would get average tax cuts of at least $15 million a year each,” while the benefits for working families are seldom noted; in fact, the likelihood of primarily adverse effects is anticipated (Debot “Trump Tax Plan Would Give 400 Highest-Income Americans More Than $15 Million a Year in Tax Cuts”).
Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich” is reminiscent of the 1933 John Knott cartoon, “Regardless of Dress.” Both comics express concern about the unequal treatment of American citizens, especially inequities in their wealth and well-being, vis-à-vis the pressing economic issues of their respective times—i.e., the Great Recession and the Great Depression. In Wolverton’s case, he approaches the attempted repeal of “Obamacare” with a sarcastic tone. The artist juxtaposes the treatment of the rich and the poor, highlighting repeated attempts to, by, and for the wealthy to undermine ACA legislation aimed to directly assist poor individuals in gaining access to healthcare. Republican repeal-and-replace efforts, by contrast, would only indirectly aid the poor by “trickling down.” For the non-affluent, their access to healthcare would only occur if and when wealth generated from tax cuts for the rich gradually permeated down from the highest to the lowest classes. For his part, Knott also addressed the need for balanced and shared sacrifice as part of the New Deal. His illustration focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Economy Act of 1933, which cut millions of federal dollars from some programs receiving an unbalanced amount of aid in order to more equitably reallocate those funds to other groups in need (Knott “Regardless of Dress”).
“Roosevelt at Chicago,” and editorial that accompanied Knott’s political cartoon in the Dallas Morning News, provided a more in-depth explanation of Knott’s visual commentary on Roosevelt’s legislative actions for equal treatment to all American citizens. A precursory discussion of extreme inequities in wealth allocation in America then and now, the 1933 editorial explained FDR’s call for cutting unequal funding from banks and veterans and redistributing the money to other constituencies in need—a call for fairness that Wolverton echoed decades later (The Dallas Morning News “Roosevelt at Chicago,” Knott “Regardless of Dress,” Wolverton “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich”).
Both Wolverton’s and Knott’s cartoons shed light on economic inequality during the most trying economic times of the current and previous centuries. The contemporary comic mocks the GOP’s Trickle-Down economic agenda and its restrictive impact on healthcare access for ordinary Americans while the Depression-era drawing depicts Roosevelt’s direct, bottom-up approach to combating economic suffering and inequality by reallocating monetary assistance and jobs to those most in need. Together, the two illustrations not only highlight how those in power conceptualize wealth and equity but also how legislative policies affect average citizens.
Wolverton’s cartoon evokes humor through the satirism of the GOP’s repeal-and-replace proposal and views of healthcare being voiced in America during 2017. Its importance rings with majority of US citizens due to their social standing and the effect that may have on their access to affordable healthcare in the near future.
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Drucker, Jesse. “Wealthy Would Get Billions in Tax Cuts Under Obamacare Repeal Plan.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Mar. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/business/tax-cuts-affordable-care-act-repeal.html.
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Horsley, Scott. “GOP Health Care Bill Would Cut About $765 Billion In Taxes Over 10 Years.” NPR, NPR, 4 May 2017, www.npr.org/2017/05/04/526923181/gop-health-care-bill-would-cut-about-765-billion-in-taxes-over-10-years.
Knott, John. “Regardless of Dress” The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct. 1933.
Murray, Shailagh, and Lori Montgomery. “House Passes Health-Care Reform Bill without Republican Votes.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 22 Mar. 2010, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/21/AR2010032100943.html.
Riotta, Chris. “GOP Aims to Kill Obamacare Yet Again after Failing 70 Times.” Newsweek, 29 July 2017, www.newsweek.com/gop-health-care-bill-repeal-and-replace-70-failed-attempts-643832.
“Roosevelt at Chicago.” The Dallas Morning News, 4 Oct. 1933.
“Trickle-Down Theory” Historical Encyclopedia of American Business. Ed. Richard L. Wilson. Vol. 3. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2009.p872-873. Wolverton, Monte. “Obamacare Repeal Good for the Rich.” Cagle, 23 Jan. 2017, www.cagle.com/monte- wolverton/2017/01/obamacare-repeal-good-for-the-rich.